Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Going Home  §

Cruising at 38,000 feet over the Atlantic ocean and Kiddo is still awake. Scratch that. It’s now an hour and a half later and we’re still cruising over the Atlantic, but in between the first and second sentences of this post, she ate, cried, we got drinks and dinner, she pooped, we changed her,  we had a flight attendant warm her up another bottle, she ate, she went to sleep, the we ate, and all in a nonstop flow that sort of evolved part of a single, still-unfolding, event.

Flying with little children is no joke. There’s not only the comfort of your bewildered children to think about, but also the comfort of fellow passengers (particularly on an extended redeye flight), not to mention the comfort of the flight crew who have a very carefully choreographed and pre-timed/synchronized series of performances to stage in a very tiny, bouncing space with very large carts full of often hot, low-viscosity contents.

It all becomes very dense very quickly, dense enough to tire everyone out entirely by the time all is said and done. Two hours in the air and it feels like an eternity. Nearly another six hours yet to go. It’s unlikely that Kiddo is going to sleep that long. In fact, when the acetaminophen wears off in a half an hour or so, the teething pain, which has gradually escalated over the entirety of this trip, will come roaring back and she’ll likely wake up, upset, in pain, trapped on an airplane, and with over five hours left to go before we land. That’s when things get interesting.

— § —

I am now typing one-handed on an iPad screen so that I can secure my child in her seat with the other arm. It is just about the slowest way I can think of to type. Scratch that, there is a slower way: all of the above in fits and starts because your child keeps almost waking up due to tooth pain while your wife is gone to the bathroom to pump breastmilk and has taken the Tylenol with her.

My neck is killing me from leaning over the infant seat and under its bonnet to “shh shh shh” repeatedly until she goes back to sleep. Nerves are getting a bit frayed. But we’re okay. We’re okay.

— § —

As long as a trip like this seems, it is far too short as the junction between two such different worlds and separated geographies. To step on in London and off again in New York after just a few short hours is a very decentering experience—at least, it was going the other way, and I expect it to be more so coming back.

On the backs of the airline seats these days they have little flat panel displays that you can use to watch your flight path. Anyone that has flown recently knows this. It makes the entire trip seem like a video game; you monitor a tiny icon of an airplane as it draws a red line across a blue-and-green-and-brown map of the world. Stats are shown and constantly updated—altitude, airspeed, distance-from and distance-to, etc.

And then you step out of the video game and into a changed world and there’s a subtle awe at the fact that fiction has so quickly escaped into reality.

— § —

About six hours into the flight now. Kiddo is hanging in there, just barely. There is a little milk left, just barely. We are awake, just barely. We have cash to get home, just barely. There may be time to catch up with work before Monday, just barely. Pretty much everything has been stretched to the limit over the last week or two. If there is any normalcy left in the reservoirs of reality for us, now would be a good time to have it, because we are out of slack.

We heard that it was 68 degrees in New York as we were boarding in London. That is a start.

— § —

It is time to get home, get serious, get done with the dissertation, and get on with the next stage of life: long-term job, long-term town, long-term home, and before all that long, kid number two, and somewhere after that, thoughts about parents.

In that order—a list that will carry us through middle age, which is where I increasingly have to admit that I am.

— § —

There are, of course, still questions. At times, in fact, I think there are so many that I dread thinking about them, much less their answers, as both seem to create black holes in the pit of my stomach.

For now, however, there is nothing to do but land, go home, and try to survive the jet-lagged New York night ahead of us.

Flying In the Morning  §

Our last night in London is, oddly enough, Saint Patrick’s Day, and while the entire city is out having a drink, we’re indoors trying to prepare ourselves for the return trip.

— § —

The final verdict on London? Is there one?

I suppose the final verdict is that it’s not New York but it is yet another major metropolitan area. It sounds odd, but despite everything I feel as though I’m leaving London without having formed much of an impression of anything. Perhaps it’s already far too commodified for that, more a cultural reference and semiotic geography than a real one where I feel as though I am right now and will “have been.”

— § —

Case in point: Tower Bridge. Standing there this morning, the sensation was one of a total lack of particularity, oddly enough. We walked halfway across, took a couple of snapshots, then headed straight for a pub for a traditional English breakfast.
Tonight we had considered Brick Lane but ended up with kebab from right around Bethnal Green station instead, and that was that.

It will be good to get back.

— § —

I tend not to talk about family directly or to post pictures of family directly on my blogs or online spaces, but here I’ll take a moment to say that it was tremendously good to see family.

The shrinking world is also a growing one; it is far easier for individuals to travel around the world than ever before, but as a result it is often far harder to spend everyday moments with one’s family than ever before. Somehow it’s very easy to move oneself about for school, work, or simple pesonal exploration, but much harder to arrange for and logistically carry out personal visits with those left behind.

— § —

I am already dreading the amount of damage control and catch-up that I will have to do in the two days after returning before the work week starts again. There will be rather a lot of both.

Nonetheless, this trip has been tremendously important to my own personal development in that it has waken me up. New York is a fabulous place, alive in many ways that London isn’t, with millions of stories and opportunities and a very unique energy unmatched by anyplace I’ve been…but it’s not where I want to spend my entire life or have my child spend her schooling years.

It is time to push ahead and finish the Ph.D. as quickly as possible, before New York becomes (for us) a decade-destroying rut. No, it’s not about any thoughts of living in London; in fact, staying here has shown me that I likely don’t want to live here. Being here, however, has shaken me out of the kind of emotional and cognitive cocoon that one gets into and that can unexpectedly last a lifetime. I don’t want to wake up one morning and realize that I’m a retired person that lived his entire life on autopilot before coming to far afield of my goals and/or destinations.

It is time to begin a push for a change of scenery. It will take a year or two, but there is a world outside of New York and a world outside of the New School and New York University, etc., and I can see now that I had recently started to forget this—a dangerous state of affairs.

Presence is like a drug—enjoy it long enough and it has you, without your realizing it, and much to your detriment.

— § —

This trip has also taught us much about our daughter. Specifically, about how tremendously patient, sunny, and independent she is, and about how much she enjoys learning about the world. I think I have begun, on this trip, to admire her already.

London, Revisited  §

Two days later and two more trips into town from Bethnel Green, then out to South Woodford for late afternoon. Picture of London is evolving daily.

— § —

The underground machines get more and more on my nerves. They are simply not easy to use, precisely because they try to be too easy to use. Just let me get a card with specific value on it and spend it down, like they do in New York. I suppose that would be the Oyster card, except that the Oyster card costs £10 just to buy empty, before you put any value on it.

Also a bother is the fact that the card machines simply don’t work (i.e. they have severe difficulty actually reading cards), which makes it a total pain in the ass to buy any kind of transit ticket whatsoever. If it’s going to be like this, can we just drop some coin into a stile instead of having to queue forever?

— § —

Food is looking up. Specifically, we started hitting the pubs. Clearly this is where the actual eating is meant to occur; there is no convenience food of any use here beyond fish & chips and kebab. The pub food, however, is quite good as long as you do it right. The burgers are profoundly good in comparison to American burgers, and I don’t say this lightly. But in nearly every facet—patty, cheese, bun, bacon, accompanying chips, whatever—the British burgers have American burgers beat. Oh, except for in the tiny domain of ketchup, where the U.K. earns a massive, massive fail with a runny, overly sweet sauce that just plain isn’t any good. But with the superbness of the rest of the product going on, ketchup is hardly needed.

Pizza, on the other hand, is another story. Basically, in the U.K., it’s more or less inedible and really quite kitschy. I could easily imagine Brits and other Europeans not taking pizza at all seriously if that’s what it tends to be like on this side of the Atlantic. Chintzy ingredients, overly greasy, overcooked, oversalty, and simply lacking in gravitas.

— § —

The service is really too good here, particularly—though not exclusively—at the pub. One could easily become spoiled—or nervous for standing out as a matter of not being willing to go as far as everyone else does in being courteous and generous. Delivery places deliver from miles away and do it in just a few minutes, in contrast to the typical NYC delivery limited to a six block radius and expected an hour after ordering.

More traditionally, from what I understand, pub staffs are really remarkably genteel. They are wearing pinstripes and button-and-collar shirts with a nice press, as well as shiny dress shoes (as opposed to the bar-labeled t-shirt and jeans that you see in the U.S.) and rather than yell, they whisper—because in the U.K. pubs during the daytime, it is virtually silent as patrons dine.

They say things like, “I’m terribly sorry sir, it appears that I can’t read properly, I’ll try again immediately,” in a very low voice when they accidentally run your bankcard through the slot facing in the wrong direction, and “Thank you very much, sir, for your custom; your meal will arrive at your table in approximately ten minutes with your cutlery and a selection of sauces and garnishments.” All of this for ordering a burger, chips, and a cold brew—decidedly lowbrow, downmarket food typically served in downmarket places in the U.S.

That’s not, at the same time, to suggest that these places are posh or elbows-off-table formal; they aren’t. They’re very informal and relaxed, in fact—very homey. They’re a category that we simply don’t have in the U.S.—informal, familiar places at which customers in hoodies and jeans and customers in pinstripes and alligator leather gather together to silently much on cheap-but-fabulous hamburgers in total, spacious cleanliness and relaxed good humor.

Clearly, I am a tremendous fan, particularly since New York can’t even approximate the best American pubs, none of which hold a candle to any of the British pubs we’ve stepped into thus far.

— § —

Trafalgar Square: Ho-hum.
Picadilly Circus: Ho-hum (and mostly under construction).
Oxford Circus: Basically Fifth Avenue only more stodgy and gray.

The urban-ness is not where London shines. Stick to the classics—Big Ben and parliament, Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace, the river Thames, and so on. That’s the good stuff.

In terms of the actual city of commerce, diversity, and transit, London is little sister to NYC, San Fran, and even places like Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles. Lots of little monocultures and unremarkability here, so far as I can see. But the architecture, history, and sense of pomp, circumstance, and national importance are where the U.K. holds its own.

— § —

All Brits are tight-lipped. This comes, I think, from a particular position into which Brits spread their mouths when making a variety of “eee” and “aay” sounds that bare all of their teeth without actually generating a smile. This is where the humorless expression comes from—their facial muscles are simply exercised or trained into that position—straight, stiff, tight mouth when not in use.

Also, British men tend to slump forward for some reason; they don’t hold their heads high, and they also don’t lean forward—it’s a definite, if slight, slump that seems to be characteristic. British women seem to don black tights and miniskirts in a much larger proportion than their American counterparts.

British children are all in uniforms, and they are everywhere. This is a nation of field trips, clearly, and then take them on public busses and in the densest of downtown areas.

— § —

Emerging realization: London is small. Tiny, even. Every single sight and place of any repute or note is within just a few minutes’ walking distance of every other similar sight or place. Today we went to Chinatown, which is basically about 16 buildings on a parallel one-block stretch of two streets. That’s it. And it’s right next to Covent Garden, which can be seen in about 10 minutes, end-to-end. And that’s right next to Westminster Abbey, which is sandwiched between Buckingham Palace and Parliament, where you’ll also find Big Ben and the River Thames. Picadilly, Oxford, and so on—they’re all within blocks. You can see one from another. A typical NYC jogger (an average, middle class one—not a pro or a marathon runner or anything) could hit every major tourist attraction in London in a typical morning’s jog.

In comparison, NYC is huge, and I’d always thought NYC to be tiny in comparison to all of the cities I’m most familiar with “out west.” At the same time, it’s quite dense, especially given the kind of (relatively short) pre-20th century architecture to be found everywhere. No idea how they manage it.

— § —

The strength of the social contract here is the most interesting thing I notice. This is a major, modern urban area, but the oil and gas caps on the public busses are just of the screw-on/screw-off variety, no lock on the cap and no locking door or panel to protect them. Anyone could wander up and siphon off dozens of gallons of gas, or sabotage a bus 30 seconds flat.

The children on field trips ride on the top levels of double-decker busses and their chaperones ride on the bottom levels and nobody thinks twice about it. When they reach their desired stop, the chaperone yells up that they should get off, and then the chaperone disembarks—leaving the kids all to get off of their own volition…and they do, even with nobody checking.

— § —

One more big inconvenience: separate hot and cold taps, everywhere here. I can see it in the bathroom, I suppose. But everywhere, even in kitchens? Is that really necessary? It is literally impossible to run warm water over something (your hands, a dish) here. You get to choose between hot and cold (during those 2-3 hours a day when there’s hot water) or between cold and cold (during the rest of the time).

— § —

Final thought for the night relates to Chinese delivery, which is dinner. In New York, all Chinese delivery dishes are basically the same brown sauce, broccoli, and green pepper fragments, with the meats/seafood/tofu changing around depending on your order. In London, the sauces seem to change in color but are all basically a greasy, salty, nondescript soup, and here the meats are basically indistinguishable from one another and lost amidst the uniform collection of yellow onion chunks (!) and water chestnuts that infest every single dish. Oh, and much greasier, with no rice. Instead, they give you (I kid you not) the deep-fried shrimp chips that you can buy uncooked at any Chinatown store.

I can honestly say that I have never had worse “Chinese” food in my life, and this from a place that has piles of online reviews meriting four or five stars from local customers saying it’s great food and a good value. No, Londoners, it’s really, actually just crap—nondescript grease soup with onions and water chestnuts and a couple slivers of soggy, otherwise unprepared anymeat in it. Four separate dishes, all indistinguishable, and one of them claimed to contain prawns!

I’d say they cost about £0.99 each to make. I wouldn’t pay more than £1.05 for each of them—if that, and only on a very generous day. Truly not a place to order Chinese, for any reason.

Ugh.

Uggggh.

Exhaustion Arrives  §

So it’s now been a few days in London, and things are wearing thin. We are exhausted. Years ago traveling was nothing too traumatic or liminal; it was more or less like daily life as a graduate student. These days, however, the split between “real life” and “road days” is intolerable, and attempting to attend to them both is like trying to jog on pavement and swim in water at the same time.

— § —

I am now glad that I didn’t go to gradate school here, or move here. Truth is, now that I’ve been here a while, I’m not too keen.

First off, the food is uniformly bad. I now understand why fish & chips is such a famous export—it’s the single most edible thing to regularly be consumed here, believe it or not. The alternatives are things like “prawn cocktail” and “smoky bacon” flavored crisps (the former basically sugared vinegar flavor, the latter liquid smoke flavor), meat pies of various kinds (with precious little meat in them; basically lard, gravy, and a tiny bit of flour to stiffen it all up, with nary a spice and very little salt or pepper), salad sandwiches (imagine sandwich shops and grocery store aisles full of dozens and dozens of different “flavors” of sandwiches that are all basically “various bits stirred into mayo” flavor, with not a single cold cut, whole vegetable, or slice of cheese in sight), and donuts, cinnamon rolls, and other pastries that are all inappropriately made from thin Greek-style pastry dough and a kind of deep and soulful absence of any kind of sugar whatsoever.

Next, the people are inconveniently and abnormally nice. If you are standing in the middle of a grocery store aisle blocking access to the canned beans, a Brit would rather leave, get in their car, and drive to the next grocery store down to avoid inconveniencing you than ask a simple “excuse me,” but they will then of course passively and aggressively complain about your inconsiderateness behind your back. They seem at turns overhelpful and underhelpful but never quite the right balance.

More seriously, Brits appear to have a deep attachment to and respect for inconvenience. They wear it like a badge of honor. Hot water for dishes and a shower? Perish the thought! Hot water is available for two hours a day and only two gallons at a time at that. Need to wash a dish and take a shower? You’ll just have to choose between the two and do one of the tasks tomorrow—either that or simply make due with cold water. After all, waste not, want not. Need a cash machine? Well you can’t have one. So there. The only cash machines are at banks. The only cash machines that work with out-of-country accounts are at large, international banks. Find yourself in the middle of London somewhere on a very busy street where you’d like to sample the local fare but need a pound to do so? All you’ve got to do is take the train two stops back to the nearest bank to get some cash. What’s that? You don’t have money for train fare? Then I guess you get to walk three miles! We can’t possibly have cash machines everywhere, no—that simply wouldn’t do.

Perhaps most offensively, everything in the U.K. is alarmingly and frustratingly small and quaint. The padlock on your door is the size of a peanut and can be pried apart by a bare-handed five-year-old. The knob on your door is the size of a poker chip and rotates exactly one quarter turn before the door opens. The sliding bolt looks something like a piece of wire hanger that’s been docked off and stuck in a sleeve. But none of this matters because the hinges are so fragile and the door so light that if you sneeze, the door will be blown across the room and shatter into bits on the much heftier tinfoil radiator. The only thing in the U.K. of any heft is their massive, woolly-mammoth-sized electrical plugs, which if dropped from a height of four feet, will easily crush a passing Fiat. Exactly a dozen U.K. electrical plugs can be shipped at a time across the Atlantic in the cargo bay of a standard-sized barge, or one at a time by air on a Boeing 747 with extensive cargo-specific modifications.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just too accustomed to coarse, brash, ugly America with its thirty-two pound lead doorknobs sized like hubcaps to be impressed by the daintiness that is the United Kingdom or their remaindered World-War-II deprivation stoicism.

— § —

Kiddo has chosen now to cut her first tooth. Very convenient. The poor thing—she went through her first cold, then vaccinations, then a seven-hour plane trip, then her first uninterruptable hours-long car ride while crying, then a strange bed, bedroom, and house, then a horde of raging (Elmira-styled) child, then doting grandparents hoisting her about, then yet another strange bed, bedroom, and house, then her first late night on the town in a loud, filthy urban setting, and finally now we top it all off with teething. By the time we top it all off with yet another long car ride, another seven-hour plane trip, and then an unceremonious dumping back into the lap of auntie babysitter so that mommy and daddy can go right back to work, she’s going to be ready to stand on the baby picket line.

I can’t blame her.

I only wish I could do something to make her feel better.

— § —

Have seen the underground, the view from the top of a double-decker, the Thames, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the eye, the changing of the guard, that strange phallic building That Shall Remain Nameless Due To Forgetfulness, parliament, and the oldest wine bar in Britain, which is something like a series of tables in a catacomb.

— § —

Still trying to have one meal together (apart from airport/airplane) on this trip. The nature of life with baby, I suppose.

Around London  §

I was previously prepared to report that London was very green, but it turns out that now, having moved into our second set of digs in the city, I can report instead that in some places it is tremendously green with rolling lawns and endless bay windows, while in other places it is very urban and rather reminiscent of Brooklyn.

— § —

Traveling internationally has turned into something of a sim-hopping and account-hopping game. Citi won’t let me log in from UK addresses without MFA (multiple factor authentication) which for some reason in my case has been failing despite me being myself. So I’ve had to keep re-inserting the American sim that barely works to try to international-roam to their 1-800 number to try to bypass MFA so that I can access the American account from British network environs.

Meanwhile, the local T-Mobile sim that I have can only be topped up using a British bank account, or by getting cash from a “Cash Machine” (British for ATM) and finding a store than can swipe the T-Mobile card that came with the sim.

There’s no easy way, at the same time, to call the U.S. from the T-Mobile sim, so I keep re-inserting the American sim to try to international-roam when calling American numbers, generally to ask them to connect via Skype in fragmented conversations consisting of multiple segments just a few words long. It’s quite arduous.

The whole thing is a bit of a fool’s dance. Things clearly are meant to work better than this. I look forward to the day when you can call anywhere using one sim and when you can log on anywhere as though it’s one Internet.

— § —

Had my first British fish & chips in paper tonight. It really does come in paper, it’s really, really greasy, it’s best with salt and vinegar, and all in all quite good, though my wife tells me that “real” fish & chips are to be had for more money whilst (British for “while”) sitting down in a pub (of which there are many here) (many, many) (many, many, many—like, on every single street corner).

Also had some Kebab. Chicken variety, with chili sauce. The chili sauce part was nice, but the chicken part left something to be desired. Lamb next time, if we get back ’round to it. Which we might not.

Quick bit of trivia: “chips” are not actually the same thing as “fries.” Fries are longer. Chips really are, more or less, “chips” chunked off of a potato. Meanwhile, what are “chips” to Americans are “crisps” here. I find both of the British terms to be clearer and more denotatively accurate. After all, American potato chips are also fried, so why are they not “fries?” And why do they not resemble the shapes you get from “chipping” anything using any chipping technology available? They’re actually slices rather than chips. But they are crisp, etc.

— § —

One of my best friends in the world has long made a habit of disciplining and correcting other peoples’ children when she felt as though they behaved particularly badly. I used to be undecided about this practice, but after recent events, I can more clearly see the utility of such a habit.

It’s good for kids to get input from all sides, including learning when people apart from their own relatives are particularly upset with them—it’s valuable experience and information for them to have, and helps them to understand some of the value of behaving in keeping with their parents’ suggestions. (Or, in the absence of parents’ suggestions, it gives them perhaps their first and only insight into empathy.)

— § —

My wife just said we are a cool couple and she may be right. We live in New York, don’t work regular nine-to-fives, have a pit bull and a bunch of Apple gear, named our baby in a language neither of us speaks (though at the same time neither of us has the same native language), and we’ve just dragged her at five months to London, where we immediately set about staying in an SRO with a shared-floor bathroom in a bohemian neighborhood, taking her out at night for fish & chips and kebab and a slew of local brews. Oh, and daddy blogs.

I hope it’s not the wrong kind of cool. But I suppose that if it is a little reflexivity at least helps to mitigate (somewhat) the “wrong” part.

— § —

What was supposed to be a working trip for practical purposes has quickly turned into a bit of a sloppy trip that’s doubling as a sorely-needed vacation. Thank goodness for all of the nonsense that has continued to make work completely implausible, and thank goodness it kept on long enough for me to stop stressing out about it all and throw up my hands.

— § —

Now we just have the rest of the week trying to impress the in-laws to live through.

Salvaged Things  §

I had an entire post written yesterday, but my connectivity in the advanced industrial society known as the United Kingdom has been so sketchy since I arrived that I was unable to post it for a number of hours and eventually forgot it was there and shut down my computer, losing it.

— § —

If you’ve ever considered paying for the “international roaming” features of various stripes offered by AT&T, don’t. They want you to pay through the nose three separate times for three separate monthly-billable features, once for voice (which reduces your voice cost to “only” $0.99/minute), once for test messaging, which at $10.00/month gets you a super-exciting 50 (yes, fifty) international text messages a month, the rest to be billed at $0.50/each, and once for data at a whopping $200/month pro-rated, which gets you all of a few dozen megabytes, with additionals billed at $5.00/per.

The punch line, of course, as you find out once you’ve paid these extraordinary prices, is that none of the features actually work at all. I’m in the United Kingdom, not fscking Zaire, but I spent about $30 in minutes trying to make a voice call (for which international dialing takes 60-120 seconds, versus the 3-5 it takes to drop the call) yet none of the calls ever got past “Hello?” from them and I actually managed to make a few people think I was in some sort of trouble over here and phoning for help; text messages have come in in spotty fashion while absolutely refusing to go out; and there is simply no data access apart from a few seconds intermittently every several hours, not a single web page or email completely successfully loaded.

All of this with a “full” signal and 3G roaming on Vodafone and Orange. Basically, it’s a giant $215/month scam. Offer absolutely nothing whatsoever at insane prices and rake in the dough.

— § —

When I finally broke down and bought a local sim instead, it was £10.00 for a pay-as-you go, no contract T-Mobile sim, £5.00 of which went to give me free, unlimited data access for a year anywhere in the U.K. and that works with no issues whatsoever and can be topped up for voice calling whenever I want, no further obligations. And I paid in cash and didn’t even have to fill out a single form or sign my name anywhere.

And they wonder why people unlock their phones.

The American mobile carriers are committing highway robbery and probably ought to be behind bars in a third-world prison somewhere.

— § —

You can never be sure whether a plan involving family and long-distance travel is a good idea or a bad one until you actually carry it out, at great expense in time, money, and emotional reserves.

Sometimes you still can’t quite tell after the fact.

— § —

For all the moaning about meals disappearing from airplanes, I wish they would just go already. On a six-hour redeye flight on which everyone, including our five-month-old baby, was trying to sleep, there were no fewer than ten (10) interruptions by the flight crew, nearly a wake-up every half hour.

Snacks, drinks, trash collection, dinner, drinks, drinks, trash collection, breakfast, trash collection, duty-free midair shopping. Dinner and breakfast (both containing approximately enough calories for a three-year-old’s meal and looking and tasting as though they cost about $0.99 out of our $1,000+ plane tickets) were served no more than three hours apart and there were three interruptions between them.

No-one slept.

Totally not worth it.

— § —

If this seems like a giant whine, see my earlier post. It may also serve to illustrate something about how expectations work for both guests and hosts on a trip of this kind, and about how the trip is going.

— § —

Only our daughter, so far, is perfect (as always), having miraculously slept all the way across the ocean, despite loud and continuous interruptions by flight crew, and having put up with more than any five-month-old ought to ever have to deal with.

Stability? Balance?  §

I’m busy. I’m really very, very busy. And we’re a bit out of our depth over here as new parents. It’s doubly tough because I’m really not young enough to put the “young” qualifier in  statements like that any longer (“out of our depth as young parents”), which makes things sound a bit more forgivable.

“Oh, you’re young? Well then, that explains the struggle. Don’t worry, you’re doing an admirable job, and it’ll all come to you in time.”

No, in my case I’m just basically middle-age, a realization I’ve had to come to over the last few days.

But that’s not what I’m posting about. Getting back to cases, I’m busy. Really very, very busy. And I keep plodding along—which is great—most of the time keeping up (just barely) and sometimes not—which is not so great—but on the whole I’d say we’re holding things together. I think.

That’s the trouble, you see. I’m having more and more difficulty trying to evaluate the state of my life or the degree to which things are (or are not) working out. I don’t quite know how much to panic, as a result, or how exactly to plan.

Things seem to go in waves. One moment I’m tremendously optimistic, overjoyed even, about the state of things.

“We’re doing fabulously. We’re young and strong and our baby is healthy and we’re relatively well off. Sure there’s a lot to be done, but there’s no reason to panic—I’ll simply do it! A little more planning and a little more dedication. That’s all that’s called for!”

Two and a half minutes later, I’ve been overtaken by despair.

“My wife and I never see each other. We’re going to grow apart. The student loans are waiting in the shadows to add a stressor into that mix, to devour our family. We can’t afford a full-time babysitter, but we can’t afford to have either one of us not work, and we don’t know how we’re going to solve that problem once we lose our family babysitters, which will happen in just a few short weeks. Meanwhile, the dissertation isn’t getting written, money isn’t getting saved, houses aren’t getting bought, and life is at a dangerous standstill!”

Cue the tense music.

One moment I feel tremendously healthy, energetic, happy, ready to go on a steady diet of carrots, apples, and herbal tea, to do Tai Chi, start lifting weights, and go for an immediate, cool, refreshing, bracing, invigorating walk in the park. Then, I go to get my shoes and embark and by the time I reach the front door I feel exhausted, unable to confront the labor involved in a filthy, freezing, pointless park walk, desirous of nothing but two pizzas with everything on them, a pile of crappy Chinese delivery as a side, and perhaps a 12-pack of Steel Reserve to be downed all in one go—hopefully to add twenty pounds and induce a combined food-drink coma that will carry me, without waking, until after next year’s presidential election, when things might (somehow, who knows) be better.

What’s going on here? Why can’t I get five minutes of emotional stability? And how do I know whether things are actually okay or harrowingly caught in the balance, whether I’m on the right track or hurtling toward a cliff, whether to keep ‘er on an even keel and straight-ahead-does-it or to throw out everything I own and burn all of my calendars and plans and start a new life from scratch?

Is it possible that there’s some middle ground?

But how do I find it?

And, assuming I can somehow navigate my way there (a somewhat dubious proposition), how do I stay there? How will I pay my bills there? And if I’m feeling tremendously optimistic, won’t it be a bit limiting?

Is this kind of weird bipolar emotional world just an artifact of fatherhood, or what? I certainly don’t feel like me—but then, after the last few years of New York, marriage, Ph.D., career, and fatherhood, and even little-but-revolutionary things like switching from Linux to Mac OS and from sarcastic screen-print tees to button-up (or is that down?) office shirts, I don’t even know who me is any longer.

Maybe that’s the problem. Mid-life crisis? Somehow that term doesn’t seem right. Mid-life overwhelm? Doesn’t really capture the spirit of the moment. Mid-life trip-and-fall-off-balance? That’s about right, I think.

Hopefully I manage to stand up, dust myself off, and get my bearings soon. I could use a return to emotional, temporal, and all other kinds of internal stability.